The FCC is seeking input on how to implement the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), the low-income broadband program that was created in the infrastructure bill that was signed into law last week.
As Telecompetitor previously reported, the new program essentially replaces the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program that was put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a few key differences. While the EBB paid up to $50 monthly toward the cost of broadband service ($75 on tribal lands), the ACP will pay $30 a month toward broadband for non-tribal households.
The new program also is slated to pay up to $75 a month for broadband service in high-cost areas if the broadband provider can demonstrate that the $30 rate would cause economic hardship for the provider.
The ACP has a considerably larger budget than the EBB did. While the EBB budget was $3.2 billion, the ACP budget is $14.2 billion.
The infrastructure bill, officially known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 calls for the ACP to replace the EBB on December 31, 2021, or whenever EBB funding runs out, whichever comes first.
As the FCC explains in a 65-page public notice released late last week, “we do not project EBB program funds will be fully expended by December 31, 2021, and therefore, for the purposes of this rulemaking, we consider December 31, 2021, to be the effective data of the Affordable Connectivity Program and the date on which the EBB ceases.”
The ACP, like the EBB, will pay up to $100 for a connected device for eligible households provided that the cost of the device to the household is at least $10 but less than $50. In the public notice, the FCC asks for input on whether it should prohibit households that received reimbursement for a connected device in the EBB program from obtaining another discounted device in the ACP program.
The EBB also had a prohibition against including cellular phones as connected devices, and the commission proposes to retain that prohibition for the ACP.
In the public notice, the FCC asks for input on a wide range of topics. Interested parties have until 20 days to submit comments and another 20 days for reply comments.
In the public notice, the FCC proposes to allow broadband providers that already participate in the EBB program to participate in the ACP without having to submit a new application, although they would have to resubmit an ACP election notice to USAC.
An important new requirement of the ACP, however, is that broadband providers must allow ACP subscribers to use the monthly benefit for any broadband service that the provider offers. Another important difference between the two programs is that those households that experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, would no longer be eligible simply on that basis.
Instead, households would have to have a household member eligible for one or more of a variety of public assistance programs or meet other eligibility requirements. Detailing those requirements is beyond the scope of this blog post but interested parties can read the details in the public notice.
Other Areas for Comment
Among the other Affordable Connectivity Program issues on which the FCC seeks comment:
- Under what circumstances should USAC reject a service provider’s election notice? Should it consider past complaints, enforcement actions, etc?
- Should the commission prevent providers from paying commission based on the number of consumers who apply for or are enrolled in the ACP with that provider?
- Should the commission apply a usage requirement for households that receive a service for which a fee is not assessed? The goal would be to prevent the program from paying for broadband service that is not used – a possibility that got Sprint into hot water in the traditional Lifeline low-income program.
- What recertification requirements should be put in place for participating households?
- Should there be minimum service requirements for a broadband service plan to be eligible for the benefit and if so, what should those requirements be?
- How should the commission administer funding to providers in high-cost areas seeking more than the $30 monthly amount for broadband service?
- How should the transition from the EBB to the ACP be handled? What notification should be provided to participating households, etc?